Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best Tortoise experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help, let us know at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.com

Sensemaker audio

Fever pitch

Fever pitch

How one country may have tried to buy their way to win at the Eurovision song contest


transcript

Nimo Omer: Hi, I’m Nimo – and this is Sensemaker – from tortoisemedia.com

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today: how a country allegedly tried to buy their way to win the Eurovision song contest

***

“You must be Destiny! Yes. How are you? I’m fine. Fine? Yeah I’m fine. Excited? Feeling good? I’m excited, I’m nervous. Where are you from? I’m from Malta. Malta! Oh fantastic…”

Ant & Dec speaking to Destiny Chukunyere on Britain’s Got Talent, 2017

That is Destiny Chukunyere back in 2017 on Britain’s Got Talent…

“How did you end up here? Because I won the junior Eurovision in 2015. I didn’t know there was one.”

Simon Cowell speaking to Destiny Chukunyere on Britain’s Got Talent, 2017

Destiny Chukunyere is a s  she went on to reach the final of Britain’s Got Talent… And today, four years later, Destiny’s back.

Now aged 18, Destiny Chukunyere was chosen to represent Malta in the recent Eurovision song contest. It was, she said, a dream come true.

“It was my dream and his dream, I mean I’ve been working so hard for it and I’m finally living my dream.”

Destiny Chukunyere speaking at Eurovision, 2021

Now Malta is a country very into the Eurovision. But it’s never come first. It’s come second twice… but never quite clinched the winning spot. 

But this year, things were meant to be different. 

There was this big PR campaign around Destiny’s entry… and there’s a reason for this – beyond the glitz of a Eurovision win. Like with other winners, it was hoped it might prompt a tourism boom in Malta, that the impact would help give it a boost. 

And by the time of the final, Destiny’s odds were looking good…

But when the results did finally come in… 

“And the winner is… a great achievement… the winner of the Eurovision song contest 2021 is Italy!”

Chantal Janzen, presenter of Eurovision 2021

Heartbreak. 

Not first, not second, not even third place for Malta… but a disappointing, and surprising, seventh place. It was a blow… but it was more than that, too. What had gone wrong? After a big campaign – involving a lot of money – how did Malta lose? 

Well, that’s a question Malta’s government is now asking, as well… 

***

Now, any true Eurovision fan will know Malta is obsessed with the song contest. And on the small Mediterranean island, the hype starts early… in October in fact. 

Since 2019, Malta has aired “X Factor Malta” where performers compete to represent their country. 

[X Factor Malta advert]

In February 2020, Destiny Chukunyere was announced the winner. 

“The winner of X Factor Malta… Destiny!”

2020 results show, X Factor Malta

Now they had their candidate, it was time for Malta’s Eurovision team to get to work. By April, even before Destiny’s song had even been announced, Malta’s odds for winning the contest rose sharply.

It was strange – and it seemed linked to a pretty determined PR campaign. Large news sites began to post editorials about Malta’s entry, including several European tabloids. 

The thing is, these weren’t normal articles about the entry like those from other countries. They were “sponsored content”… advertorials…

That’s not all – several influencers also began to show their support for Malta’s entry, using the Maltese promotional hashtag #destinedforgreatness on Instagram. But this didn’t go unnoticed as Eurovision fans began to catch on to Malta’s efforts.

***

YouTube users found they were being served Destiny Chukunyere’s entire semi-final performance as a pre-roll advertisement ahead of the grand finale. That means Malta spent a lot of money on ads.

And reporters were picking up on both the publicity…. and the favourable odds…

“Congratulations Destiny on your wonderful performance and making it to the final, I don’t know if you know it but you also raised in the odds now you’re second right after Italy to win the contest so do you really think this could be the first year of Malta to win the Eurovision contest?”

A reporter speaking to Destiny Chukunyere at the Eurovision 2021 press conference

Malta had invested lots of time and money to try to get their entry to the winning spot – but it had failed. And that’s when people started to ask questions.

In the days that followed the contest, the board of Malta’s public broadcaster, PBS, which is responsible for the entry, raised concerns of financial mismanagement to a government minister, Carmelo Abela. They accused Malta’s Eurovision team of impropriety… that they’d behaved dishonestly.

It was reported to Carmelo Abela that taxpayer funds were being used unethically… that Malta was ploughing money into the likes of Betfair to keep Destiny Chukunyere as the favourite. And that foreign nationals had been given money in exchange to bet on Malta… helping raise the odds even more.  

It seems that if they could swing the odds to say Destiny was going to win, it would tip public support in her favour. It was all about hype and a winning narrative. 

It was reported that Malta’s Tourism Authority spent around €350,000 promoting the entry, with at least another €250,000 being spent by PBS. And so the government minister, Carmelo Abela, has now ordered an audit to look into how the Eurovision money was spent. 

Both PBS and Eurovision’s organisers are yet to comment.  

Maybe this is a story about how Eurovision reached fever pitch but it’s also a sign of what an economic powerhouse the contest has become, with smaller countries desperate to win because of all the other stuff that comes with victory – tourism, prestige, hosting the next event… It’s Eurovision, 524 points, Malta, none. 

Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper

Listen